In the 1960s, Frank Slazak was growing up in small town America dreaming of becoming an astronaut. But, as he said, he didn't have "the right stuff." So instead, he became a science teacher who hoped to instill the dream of space travel and exploration into the minds and hearts of his students.
Then, in early 1985, everything changed. His dream was re-ignited when President Reagan announced a NASA contest to send an American teacher into space. At stake was a place on the crew of the space shuttle Challenger.
Over 43,000 applications were requested, but the 25 page questionnaire proved too daunting for most. Still, more than 11,000 were completed and returned to NASA for review. Slazak's was among them.
He had prayed in earnest over every question and had asked God to guide every word of every answer. Then he prayed that God would work in the hearts and minds of the review board to accept his application.
To his great joy, he passed the first round of cuts. Then he passed the next … and the next. With each round of cuts, his prayers for a spot on that shuttle crew grew more fervent. "God, please let it be me," he prayed. "I want this so badly!"
Slazak made it to the final round of 100 who would actually come to NASA for advanced training and testing. Only one, however, would make the final cut. At the end of training, the 100 applicants were sent home to await the decision:
When our training was over, we said good-bye to each other, wished each other luck and began the final wait to see who would be chosen. This select few shared an experience that few people will ever get to share. We shared a special bonding, a special caring for each other, but deep down, each of us prayed that we would be the one to be chosen to fly the Challenger mission. I was sure that no one prayed for that dream more than I did.
But then came the news he dreaded. He was not chosen to ride the Challenger. Instead a New Hampshire teacher, Christa McAuliffe would take the spot on the crew that he was sure God would have delivered to him.
Depression, loss of confidence and anger replaced my euphoria … Why God, why not me? What part of the right stuff did I lack? Why had life dealt me such a cruel blow? How could I face my students, my family and my community? Why did my dream have to end when I was so close?
On Tuesday, January 28, 1986, Frank Slazak sat with his family and the family and friends of so many other finalists as they gathered to watch the Challenger launch. He prayed one last time, "God, I would do anything to be in that shuttle. Why can't that be me?"
Lift off. It was a perfect launch. Then, 73 seconds later the Challenger abruptly exploded, killing all on board. Suddenly, Slazak realized that he wasn't a loser. He was a winner. "I had won," he said, "because I had lost."
Today, Frank Slazak travels the world speaking to audiences of all ages about the lessons he learned from the loss of his dream and the realization of God's greater purposes.
As a result of the Challenger experience, my life changed forever. The pain and disappointment that I endured inspired me to help people find their own strengths in the midst of life's challenges. The loss of seven friends in that disaster has driven me to continue the inspirational good that can come out of what appears to be failure.
No doubt Slazak would agree with the words of English poet and novelist Jean Ingelow, "I have lived to thank God that all my prayers have not been answered."
When life denies us our dreams or hands us sorrow when we've asked for joy, or defeat when we've begged for victory, remember that God is in control. He sees the beginning from the end. In His upside down Kingdom, losing can be winning, the last can be first, and the servant can be the greatest of all (Matthew 19:30, 20:16). Therefore, pray with humility, trusting your destiny, your purpose, and even your happiness to His will.
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it" (Isaiah 55:8-11).
"Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few" (Ecclesiastes 5:2).